Ohio school, township simulate active shooter for training
Sounds of gunfire, smoke, lighting and other sound effects were used to increase responders' stress levels and make the exercise as realistic as possible
By Dan Sewell
WEST CHESTER, Ohio — Young actors, some with limbs and clothes appearing to be blood-covered, ran screaming out of a school building with sounds of blank ammunition gunfire popping behind them Wednesday as a suburban school district and township authorities in southwest Ohio trained for the nightmare scenario of a shooter on a rampage.
Lakota Schools and the West Chester police and fire departments collaborated on the hours-long exercise Wednesday with the help of some 200 school and community volunteers.
"The active shooter situation is a very important concept for us to understand and study, because we realize that it's not a matter of where, it's a matter of when," said Township Fire Chief Rick Prinz. "So we want to be prepared."
A student at nearby Madison Schools opened fire with a handgun in a school cafeteria Feb. 29, injuring four students, none fatally.
Police Chief Joel Herzog said township police officials attended a briefing on that shooting by the Butler County sheriff's office to learn from its experience. He said township police have been conducting active shooter exercises for several years, but this was the first large-scale exercise with the fire department. The departments also were trying out a joint approach in which medical first responders can get to victims more quickly.
Herzog said besides the sounds of gunfire, smoke, lighting and other sound effects were used to increase responders' stress levels and make the exercise as realistic as possible both for learning and to enable officers to feel they've experienced it before if and when they are in a real active shooter situation.
Radio traffic crackled with reports of a shooting with multiple casualties, and volunteer actors, including some high school drama students, wailed and groaned. One asked a paramedic: "Am I going to die?"
"I think it's really important to have this kind of training," said Rachel Incerpi, 22, a former Lakota Schools student volunteering as a student actor in the exercise. Major Miller, 25, of Cincinnati, said he took part because he has a young cousin at the elementary school where the exercise took place and he thought it was something helpful he could do to help prepare for such a situation.
School officials and police advised residents of the planned training to avoid panicked calls at the sight of SWAT, fire and other emergency vehicles at Hopewell Elementary. The school is out for the summer.
With 16,500 students in 22 schools, Lakota is one of Ohio's largest school districts. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine praised the exercise for complementing statewide efforts to make sure schools plan for a crisis in the aftermath of the 2012 fatal shootings of three students in Chardon High School, in northeast Ohio. His office and the state Department of Education in 2013 launched a classroom-based program called Active Shooter Training for Educators.
"Training exercises like this are incredibly important because they give officers the opportunity to sharpen their skills in a true-to-life setting," DeWine said in an emailed statement Wednesday. "An active shooter situation is something that law enforcement officers and community members never want to face, but it's a scenario that school districts and first responders must prepare for."